The demise of political culture

The demise of political culture

Evangelos Venizelos’ farewell speech in Parliament earlier this week, which took place during a debate on a slew of new amendments to the country’s criminal code and code of criminal procedure, was addressed to a half-empty auditorium. Those present consisted of ruling SYRIZA’s MPs, a few members of legislative committees and just one lawmaker out of the 19 that represent Movement for Change (KINAL), the PASOK veteran’s party before he was basically shunned by its leader, Fofi Gennimata.

Such, you may say, is the nature of politics. What should not be in the nature of politics, however, is such a blatant absence of any sense of political culture. Its place has been taken by concerns about political cost, a versatile and nebulous thing that can be assigned to a huge range of actions or reactions. The explanation for the half-empty auditorium – a result of opposition MPs representing KINAL, New Democracy and the Greek Communist Party walking out in protest at the government’s barrage of legislation before Parliament is dissolved – is simply not enough, and especially not for KINAL. Venizelos was all alone when he asked that the new regulations be ratified and enacted despite his reservations and the criticism he leveled against the government, referring to specific incidents.

In the presentation of his own contribution, Venizelos spoke of 26 years of “constant and uninterrupted” service to the House. Venizelos has been a part of several governments and played an instrumental role in the country’s political evolution. He made friends and enemies, acquired supporters and rivals. He is held in great esteem by some and completely despised by others. That too is in the nature of politics.

But Venizelos was left to stand there alone and bid his adieu, when his fellow parliamentarians had a duty to be there, whether they like him or not. If they cannot rise above their petty, personal considerations to set an example for a divided and poisoned social body at such a crucial time for the country, if they cannot show that likes and dislikes have nothing to do with acceptable political behavior, then there is no hope of change or further evolution.

In the mind of society, regardless of whether it has gone down as being in favor of one side or the other, the incident confirms the prevailing belief that nothing changes. “Parliamentary discussions and Parliament’s minutes are a condensed record of the nation’s anxieties, experiences, accomplishments, defeats and victories,” Venizelos said, adding that it constitutes everything which makes this nation what it is. Well, the nation has just suffered another defeat; it may be a small one, but it’s symbolism is quite significant.

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